The vast structure of recollection

Bear with me on this one.

The biggest problem with being a grown-up is the worrying about the future. Worrying might be the wrong word; maybe planning for or looking after are better terms.

It doesn’t really matter what you call it, when you’re a grown up its always getting in the way. It gets in the way of enjoying life, of living in the moment, of fully connecting to the thing you’re supposed to be doing. It’s the worst thing about being a grown-up (apart from the going blind, the skin like old paper, the outrage at the antics of teenagers, the outrage at the ill-fitting pants of anyone under 30 – you get the idea).

But there is a solution, a cure, and, like the best of miracle cures it’s free.

It’s your involuntary memory. Your Proustian memory.

I was in Paris a few weeks ago for work and I had a morning to kill so  I did what any normal person would do and I went sight seeing. I rented a bicycle and imagined myself as a younger man and pedalled around the 3rd, 4th and 11th Arrondissements. My destination was at the top of Rue de la Roquette and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I’d come to find the final resting place of the man behind the crystallising of the concept of involuntary memory in the 20th century.


Marcel Proust told a story that included an anecdote about a small cake and a cup of tea. The scent and taste of the cake transports him like a time machine to his youth and he describes in vivid detail eating the selfsame cake with his  aunt. This  involuntary memory has become known as Proustian memory. The next time you smell a freshly shaved pencil and a wax crayon and your first day of school flashes before your eyes you can say “that triggered an intense proustian memory” rather than “I think I’m going mad” – it makes you seem more intelligent.

Whats all this about?

Well, the activity of running for long distances allows me to live like a child and allow  space and time to lose their connection. This allows all of the burdens of being a grown up to evaporate and I find myself mentally, if not physically, free of the burden of being a grown up.

That’s the main reason I run. The freedom of childhood. The most natural state in the world.

Of course, most of my childhood, like yours, was probably a grind of homework, school uniforms, religion and rain. The same is true of running but the overall cumulative effect of all the running is to allow space and time to drift apart and in the gap between the two you find an alternative world.


After the trip to the graveyard I dropped into a small shop in Paris and picked up a bar of soap. Immediately I was 16, on my own in France for the first time and staring at topless women on the beach. But that’s another story.



One response to “The vast structure of recollection

  1. Thanks Richard.

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